Enriched colonies

A couple months ago, I discussed the book chapter I wrote on a different type of hen housing system: the enriched colony . Today, the Wall Street Journal ran a piece I wrote about this hen housing system and the costs of alternative housing systems.   

A few snippets:

A 2014 California voter initiative and subsequent state legislation ultimately led to a ban on sales of battery-cage eggs in the Golden State. Because eggs have few close substitutes, demand tends to be relatively insensitive to changes in price. When demand is inelastic, a small-percentage change in the quantity supplied causes an even greater increase in price.

Comparing the prices of eggs sold in California before and after the law with the prices of eggs sold in other states reveals that the legislation increased egg prices for Californians by at least 22%—or about 75 cents for a dozen. A related analysis using Agriculture Department wholesale price data indicates the California law increased prices between 33% and 70%. Poor Americans, who spend a larger share of their incomes on food, are disproportionately affected.


Rather than getting rid of the cages entirely, one answer is to use a relatively new type of housing: the enriched-colony cage system. Unlike the barren environment in the battery cages, the much larger, enriched-colonies have nesting areas for egg laying and a matted area that allows the hens to exercise their natural urge to scratch. Also available are perches that allow the hens to get up off the wire floor.

An enriched colony is not a Ritz-Carlton, and some animal advocates think the systems do not go far enough. However, they represent an innovative compromise that attempts to balance cost and the hens’ well-being.